Dyan Branstetter | January 2016
Making Arts Connection: Content, Skill, or Vocabulary?
Teaching methods can be cyclical. In college, when I was first learning how to write lesson plans and units, I remember a professor recommending the use of a “web”. We wrote our topic in the middle, then all of the different subject area connections branched out from the center. Once I began teaching, I found that this idea of thematic instruction didn’t lend itself to curriculum pacing guides. Looking back, I’m glad that I had the experience of looking for those connections. Finding and making arts connection can truly enhance learning.
When planning arts integration lessons, the goal is to find two standards that naturally intersect and pair them together. In full disclosure, my first ideas for connections are through content. For example, every year my curriculum requires that I teach a short unit on present day Spain. Immediately, I think of Flamenco dance, Spanish guitar, Dali, and Picasso. Then, I fine-tune those big connections, and find specific arts standards by chatting with my art and music teachers. Connections like this seemed limitless.
Give me a topic, I made it my mission to find a pairing. Lancaster County and/or Amish Culture? Quilt design, Charles Demuth’s Figure 5 in Gold. Water Cycle? Cloud painting. Our anthology selection How Animals Talk? Peter and the Wolf or Carnival of the Animals. I thought I exhausted every possible content connection because I had an arts connection for every topic in my curriculum.
An Arts Connection to Vocabulary
After learning more about arts integration, I found that sometimes the best integration stems from a skill, process, or vocabulary connection. This seems simple, but it opened up a new world of integration possibilities! Instead of looking at topics, I could find connections in vocabulary. For example, I teach lessons on genres the entire year in my language arts class. A National Arts Standard for 3rd grade focuses on genres, stating, “Demonstrate and explain how one dance genre is different from another.” By learning and comparing the idea of dance vs. music vs. literature genres, they understand the concept of genres at a much deeper level. To find vocabulary connections, simply have a conversation with your arts specialists, and spend time reading through their curriculum. Be sure to make notes on the words that your subject areas have in common with the arts.
Another example of an integrated skill is fluency. In the elementary classroom, we practice reading to obtain a certain fluency (the ability to read accurately and with expression) daily. This is a natural connection with theater, and the ability to convey a character’s emotions through spoken language.
When looking for process connections, I can connect the Scientific Method to the writing process because of their cyclical nature. This connects to the creative process. Helping students discover the parallels of these processes through discussion can help students become aware of the patterns we can identify to help us create or experiment. Sometimes noticing this pattern can be the framework needed for a student to be successful.
Think about the ways you tend to integrate. Do you integrate topics/content, vocabulary, or process/skill? Take a minute and mentally go through your integrated lessons or units. Jot some of them down in the chart below. If you find that all of them land in one category, look for ways you can integrate within a different category. Remember, integration doesn’t have to be a huge project. It could be as simple as making a one-word vocabulary connection!